To the Wonder (Magnolia Pictures, R)

tothewonder 75I don’t love all his films, but I love the way he makes films.



tothewonder 500

Remember when the release of a Terrence Malick movie was an event? This guy has become one of the most revered directors in the world while managing to make Stanley Kubrick look prolific. But, now, out of nowhere, everything has changed. To the Wonder is his second film in two years, and he has three more set to come out in the very near future, including an untitled project set for release in just a few months. 

I have to say I’m conflicted about this new turn of events. On the one hand, it’s obviously exciting to get new films from a master filmmaker. On the other hand, maybe the long waits between films are what make them so special. I remember seeing the trailer for The Tree of Life and getting goosebumps, thinking that it looked like one of the greatest film ever made. I saw the trailer for To the Wonder and thought it looked almost like a parody of a Terrence Malick film. I knew early reviews of the film were mixed to negative, and I went in legitimately worried that the great Terrence Malick was on the verge of becoming Tim Burton.

My worries were alleviated almost immediately. Don’t get me wrong—Malick has a very distinct style and he doesn’t deviate from it. What made me feel good was realizing that I’m still not over it. I don’t love all his films, but I love the way he makes films. I think most people’s impressions of Terrence Malick are shots of hands in wheat fields and sun shining through trees, but I focus more on his tone. The beautiful photography is mixed with beautiful music and lyrical voiceover that creates a soothing, poetic atmosphere that I can’t get enough of. We saw a similar style in Spring Breakers recently, but Harmony Korine focuses on ugliness, while Malick focuses on beauty.

Malick’s movies are all meandering by nature, but I think that works best when his stories are small. Here he is less concerned with questions of the universe and existence than in The Tree of Life. There are no battle scenes like in The Thin Red Line or The New World. This seems most in line with Days of Heaven, a beautiful character study about a doomed love triangle. Almost the entire movie focuses on the relationship between Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko. She is clearly in love with him, but he is not as committed to her. They both try to make it work, but we all know it can’t.

Affleck doesn’t make much of an impression, but that’s partially because the camera is so in love with Kurylenko. She’s obviously a beautiful woman, and an actress in whom I’ve always been interested, despite the fact that I’ve only seen her in stunningly thankless roles. Here, she is the center of attention, and she might be the most Malick-ian heroine ever. If you roll your eyes at Malick’s filming of women spinning around in wheat fields, avoid this movie like the plague.

I mentioned Tim Burton earlier, but another auteur who has a distinct style and doesn’t tend to stretch himself much in Wes Anderson. With the exception of Fantastic Mr. Fox, I’ve never really liked Wes Anderson’s style, which means it’s hard for me to embrace his films. I know a lot of people loved Moonrise Kingdom; some even said it was his best movie. I felt like it was the purest example of his style yet, which means I liked it the least of all his work. 

To the Wonder is Malick’s Moonrise Kingdom. If you don’t like what he does, this will be the most egregious offender. I love what he does, and I loved this movie. I’m not saying it’s his best (that will always be Badlands), but I’m pretty sure I liked it more than The Tree of Life and The New World. I don’t know how the story will play when I watch it on blu-ray, but for the two hours I spent sitting in the theater I felt like I was wrapped in a very warm blanket. I went in worried that Malick was doing too much too fast, and I came out excited that I won’t have to wait long for him to put out another film. | Sean Lass

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